Harmonising laws on access to information emerged as a major issue today when public officials, policy makers, civil society, and scholars gathered in Kampala to commemorate the International Day on Access to Information. Participants noted that despite the enactment of access to public information law 12 years ago; several public officers in Uganda still hide under the Official Secrets Act, a 1964 piece of legislation that barred public officials from disclosing information to the public.
The dialogue at Imperial Royale Hotel was organized under the theme "Access to Information for Improved Service Delivery and Accountability."
Uganda has today joined the rest of the world to commemorate the day designated in 2015 by the United Nations cultural agency - UNESCO.
Participants noted that despite the enactment of access to public information law 12 years ago; several public officers in Uganda still hide under the Official Secrets Act, a 1964 piece of legislation that barred public officials from disclosing information to the public.
The public dialogue was organised by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance together with Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). CIPESA is a regional centre for research and information brokerage that enables policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues to improve governance and livelihoods.
Dr Ronald Kakungulu Mayambala, a senior lecturer at Makerere University's School of Law, explains that the government officials should not comfortably quote the Official Secrets Act and deny citizens information without considering the constitutional provisions.
According to Dr. Mayambala, the culture of official secrecy should not be used by public officers noting that Article 274 provides for the laws that pre-date the constitution that should be used in tandem with the constitutional provisions.
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Dr. Wairagala Wakabi, the CIPESA Executive Director, told URN that although Uganda was among the first African countries to enact a right to information law, the Access to Information Act 2005, its full implementation has remained subjective.
"This move to make the access to information act was seen by human rights activists as a major step towards the realization of the right to information in Uganda. However, 12 years down the road, Ugandans are yet to realise this right as the implementation of the Act has remained quite subjective and inconsistent," Dr. Wakabi said.
Loyce Kyogabirwe, a project officer at CIPESA says that there is need to find a common ground to enable citizens fully access information held by government. She notes that despite the constitutional provisions on access to information, Ugandans are barred by the official secrets act under which several public officers deny information.
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She adds that Uganda needs enact a data management and privacy law in order to have the information that citizens share protected. She notes that currently Ugandans have no recourse to the law in case their data is manipulated by the various organisations or individuals.
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Norah Owaraga, a cultural anthropologist and managing director of Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) Uganda, says Ugandans are brought up with a culture of not asking for information.
Owaraga says the access to information laws have been written and premised on the cultures, practices and the traditions of the global West which in a way informs reasons why majority Ugandans don't bother to ask because of the varied cultural backgrounds.
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As researcher, Owaraga says that stages that one goes through to access information are tiresome and that sometimes it becomes difficult to have their information disseminated since their findings are often politicized.
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